How to Clean Vinyl Records

by Helen Appling | Updated: October 12, 2022

It’s essential that you learn how to clean vinyl records if you want to keep your collection in tip-top condition. When your vinyl is clean, you’ll enjoy a cleaner, crisper sound.

Why Clean Vinyl Records?

If you notice excessive crackling or “noise” when you play your vinyl records, you may incorrectly assume the issue is caused by scratches on the record’s surface. In most cases, this simply isn’t what’s happening. In reality, it’s dust that’s causing the interference. So if you want to enjoy your music the way it was intended, you have to pay special attention to keeping your records clean.

When it comes to how to clean vinyl records, you’ll find that there are several options, including unconventional ones like wood glue. In this article, we’ll cover the most popular and effective methods.

Brush with a Record Brush

Vinyl records are made with embedded metal particles. This means that they can become statically charged and actually attract dust. Simply blowing your records won’t clean them because the dust simply moves to the other side of the disc. Instead, you need to place your record down on a soft surface and then remove the dust.

The best way to clean vinyl records in between deep cleans is with an anti-static carbon fiber brush. These small brushes won’t electrically charge your vinyl any more than it already is. To get started with the cleaning process, place your record on a soft, smooth surface, like a placemat or dry dish towel.

Grasp the record cleaning brush and slowly drag it across the surface of the record, following its circular pattern. Brush clockwise from the 12 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position, and then twist your wrist to brush counter-clockwise, cleaning the opposite side. When you’re done, you’ll notice a thin line of dust at the bottom of your vinyl record. Using the brush, quickly swipe the dust off the record. Repeat the same process on the other side of the record.

You should clean with a brush before every play and again before putting your vinyl record away.

Clean with Record Cleaner

If your vinyl record is dirty with stuck-on dirt, a brush alone won’t be enough to get it clean. Instead, you’ll need to turn to vinegar or a specially designed vinyl record cleaner fluid.

Using vinegar

When using vinegar to clean your vinyl, you’ll need two clean microfiber towels, two spray bottles, white vinegar, and distilled water. Avoid using tap water as trace minerals can leave water spots on your vinyl.

Place your vinyl on a flat, soft surface. Combine the vinegar and water mixture in a 50/50 ratio into a spray bottle and lightly mist one side of your vinyl record, taking care to avoid wetting the label. Alternatively, you can spray the mixture directly onto the microfiber towel.

Slowly wipe your vinyl using the microfiber towel. Just as you do with a record cleaning brush, wipe down one side of your record, and then turn your wrist to wipe down the other. Rinse your microfiber towel, spray your record with clean water, and then wipe the vinyl down again. Spritz the record once more with clean water, and then use the clean microfiber towel to give it one last wipe.

Using vinyl record cleaner fluid

There are many commercially available vinyl record cleaner fluids to give your discs a more thorough cleaning. Most are made using the same ingredients, so you can pick one based on brand or price preference.

Some vinyl record cleaners come with an applicator. If so, use that for the cleaning process. Otherwise, use a clean microfiber towel. Apply a few drops of the cleaning fluid to the applicator or microfiber towel. Try to spread your drops so that the fluid covers the length of the applicator or the width of a vinyl record on the towel.

Place your vinyl on a soft surface and slowly brush or wipe the record while pushing down over the label to keep the vinyl from moving. Wipe one side, and then reverse direction to cover the other side. There is no need to rinse the record when you’re done.

Use a Record Cleaning Machine

For vinyl records that have clearly seen better days, you may prefer the ease and convenience of a record cleaning machine over hand cleaning. Likewise, if you have lots of vinyl records, you may prefer an automated cleaning process rather than a manual one.

Record cleaning machines vary in price depending on brand, capacity, and quality. You can find them for as little as $50, though if you intend to use yours often, you should consider investing in a more robust build.

While the exact mechanics of a record cleaning machine will vary depending on which you choose, the process is largely similar. For most, you’ll attach your vinyl record to a spindle, apply a cleaning fluid until the surface is covered, and then lower a vacuuming tube over the record to suck up all the cleaner and dirt. It takes just a couple of rotations with the suction tube to completely clear and dry your vinyl.

Keep Your Records Clean Between Uses

Due to their construction, vinyl records attract dust. However, you can minimize how dirty they get by following a few simple steps.

For starters, make sure you always brush your vinyl before putting it away. This will remove any dust that accumulated while you were using it.

Next, always store your vinyl within a paper sleeve. This will provide physical protection from dust and dirt. If you have the record’s outer sleeve, use it as well to add another layer that blocks dust.

When storing records, try to keep them in an enclosed space. This is just one more barrier to keep dirt out. However, make sure the space is also cool and dry. Storing your vinyl records in humid conditions is a surefire way to end up with a sticky, gunky mess.